Self-delusion is something we all do. And it’s not always a bad thing as it can help us cope with some of life’s truly challenging and trying times by convincing us to press on, even when facing insurmountable odds. However, when we do this with physical activity and nutrition, we can unknowingly erode our health. Here are three health lies many of us tell ourselves to feel better, but we are likely doing ourselves more harm than good.
I worked out really hard.
You may have, but most likely not. And even if you did, you believe you worked out harder than you really did. In Kidding Ourselves, Pulitzer-winning writer Joseph Hallinan notes research where people fitted with accelerometers found out that both men and women dramatically overestimate the amount of exercise they get. There are two downsides to this. First, you fail to derive the health benefits of the more challenging workout you believe you had. Second, and more powerfully, this often leads to nutrition choices to reward ourselves for the effort. Unfortunately, giving ourselves a free pass to poor food choices after “deserving” a treat because we exercised means we will be more likely to make a far worse choice due to a phenomenon called “moral licensing.”
In the Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal explains moral licensing like this: “When you do something good, you feel good about yourself. This means you’re more likely to trust your impulses, which often means giving yourself permission to do something bad. The worst part of moral licensing is not just its questionable logic; the problem is how it tricks us into acting against our own best interests. It convinces us that self-sabotaging behavior is a well-earned ‘treat.’ This is lunacy, but it’s an incredibly powerful trick of a mind that turns your wants into shoulds.”
Interestingly, a truly hard workout is a physical challenge to the body that actually warrants better nutrition, not worse, to provide the proper nutrients to recover from the workout.
Everything in moderation.
The favorite rallying cry of defiantly and often visibly unhealthy people, the idea of “everything in moderation” is delusional because of how people define “moderation.” Having any type of junk food once a day isn’t moderation. That’s a habit. That’s your lifestyle. The other flaw is in people who eat ice cream once a week, but also eat a doughnut once a week and fries once a week, etc. Because each item is eaten once a week, they erroneously interpret this as moderation. Nope.
There’s this relatively modern concept of “superfoods,” but there’s really no such thing. For most of human history, there was just food
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